Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
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The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and its regulations establish the legislative basis for the federal practice of environmental assessment in most regions of Canada.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, S.C. 1992, c. 37 (CEAA) is an Act of Parliament that was passed by the Government of Canada in 1992. The Act requires federal departments, including Environment Canada, agencies, and Crown corporations to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects where the federal government is the proponent or where the project involves federal funding, permits, or licensing.
The original version of the act was repealed in 2012 and re-written. The new law came into effect on July 6, 2012.
The purpose of CEAA 2012 is to:
- Protect components of the environment that are within federal legislative authority from significant adverse environmental effects caused by a designated project;
- Ensure that designated projects are considered and carried out in a careful and precautionary manner in order to avoid significant adverse environmental effects when a federal authority is exercising a power or performing a duty or function required for the project to proceed;
- Promote cooperation and coordination between federal and provincial governments;
- Promote communication and cooperation with Aboriginal peoples;
- Ensure that opportunities are provided for meaningful public participation;
- Ensure that environmental assessments are completed in a timely manner;
- Ensure that proposed projects on federal lands or that are outside Canada and carried out or financially supported by a federal authority, are considered in a careful and precautionary manner in order to avoid significant adverse environmental effects;
- Encourage federal authorities to take actions in a manner that promotes sustainable development in order to achieve or maintain a healthy environment and a healthy economy; and
- Encourage further studies of the cumulative effects of physical activities in a region and the consideration of the study results in environmental assessments.
When does CEAA 2012 apply?
CEAA 2012 applies to projects described in the Regulations Designating Physical Activities, namely physical activities summarized in the Regulations designating physical activities When the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (the Agency) is the responsible authority for a designated project that is described in the Regulations designating physical activities, upon acceptance of a project description, an analysis is undertaken by the Agency to decide if a federal environmental assessment is required. This step does not apply to designated projects regulated by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for which conducting an environmental assessment is mandatory when such a project is designated.
A project may be designated by the Minister of the Environment if he or she is of the opinion that the carrying out of the project may cause adverse environmental effects, or that public concerns related to those effects warrant the designation. An environmental assessment under CEAA 2012 is required for each project designated by the Minister of the Environment.
A responsible authority ensures that an environmental assessment of a designated project is conducted in accordance with CEAA 2012, including ensuring the public is provided with an opportunity to participate in the environmental assessment.
Under CEAA 2012, responsible authorities can be the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the National Energy Board or the Agency.
Federal departments and agencies with specific expertise are required to provide information and advice that support the conduct of environmental assessments by responsible authorities.
For projects on federal lands that are not designated projects, before a federal authority or an airport authority may carry out the project or exercise any power or perform any duty or function that will permit the project to be carried out, the authority will have to be satisfied that carrying out the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. This also applies if the Governor in Council has decided the project's significant adverse environmental effects are justified in the circumstances. This responsibility also applies to projects outside of Canada that are federally funded or for which the Government of Canada is the proponent.
What is examined during a federal environmental assessment?
The following factors must be considered:
- environmental effects, including environmental effects caused by accidents and malfunctions, and cumulative environmental effects
- significance of those environmental effects
- public comments
- mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements
- purpose of the designated project
- alternative means of carrying out the designated project
- changes to the project caused by the environment
- results of any relevant regional study
- any other relevant matter
Types of environmental assessments
What are the types of environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012? There are two types of environmental assessment conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012):
- environmental assessment by a responsible authority,
- and environmental assessment by a review panel.
An environmental assessment by a responsible authority is conducted by the Agency, the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Information on the process for environmental assessments conducted by the Agency is provided below. Information with respect to environmental assessments conducted by the National Energy Board or Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission may be found on their websites.
An environmental assessment by review panel is conducted by a panel of individuals appointed by the Minister of the Environment and supported by the Agency.
Both types of assessments can be conducted by the federal government alone or in cooperation with another jurisdiction, such as a province.
Upon acceptance of a complete project description, the Agency has 45 calendar days, including a 20-day public comment period, to determine whether a federal environmental assessment is required.
An environmental assessment conducted by the Agency must be completed within 365 days. This timeline starts when a notice of the commencement of the environmental assessment is posted on the Registry Internet site and ends when the Minister of the Environment makes a decision as to whether the designated project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.
The Minister of the Environment may refer a project to a review panel within 60 days of the notice of commencement of an environmental assessment. An environmental assessment by a review panel needs to be completed within 24 months. This timeline starts when the proposed project is referred to a review panel and ends when the Minister of the Environment issues the environmental assessment decision statement.
For every environmental assessment:
- The Minister may extend the time limits by an additional three months, to facilitate cooperation with another jurisdiction or to take into account other circumstances specific to the project.
- Upon recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, the Governor in Council may also extend the time limit (in addition to the three month extension granted by the Minister).
- The period that is taken by the proponent to respond to a request from the Agency or a review panel (conduct studies, prepare environmental impact statement, collect further information, etc.), is not counted in the timelines.
- "Canadian Environmental Assessment Act". Laws.justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
- "Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012". Laws-lois.justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2012-10-19.